Reservists Comparable to Active-Duty Soldiers, Enlisted Leader Says
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2008 The Army Reserve has evolved into an operational force that is endowed with training, leadership and skills comparable to the active-duty component, the Army Reserve’s senior enlisted soldier said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Caffie said he was impressed by the quality of reservists he met over the holidays in Afghanistan and Iraq, and during a massive re-enlistment ceremony in Iraq in which he participated during January.
“You can go to the theater, … and you can’t distinguish between the active-duty, National Guard or Army Reserve soldiers because that skill set and that quality is so much higher (than in the past),” he said.
Evidence of parity among Army components is an encouraging shift for Caffie, who joined the reserves after serving as an active soldier in Vietnam. The leisurely Army Reserve of yore, Caffie recalled, was a far cry from the active Army of his Vietnam service.
“I got shipped to 4th Infantry Division, which was a combat division, and I arrived via C-120,” Caffie said, describing his active-duty Vietnam deployment in a Feb. 4 interview. “The first sergeant said, ‘Here’s your weapon; there’s a rucksack down the flight pad for you.’ So I went down there, sat on that flight pad, (and the) helicopter came in late that afternoon, picked me up, (and) took me to the jungle.”
In contrast, Caffie’s recollections of the Army Reserve he entered several years later elicits memories of a military component that was akin to a social club, replete with a party planning committee and annual training that felt like summer camp.
“I tell you, it was an eye-opening experience for a person coming off active duty and going into the reserve-component unit,” Caffie told American Forces Press Service.
“Typically, you showed up for 7 o’clock formation, where they called roll. Everybody answered ‘here’ or ‘present,’” he continued. “Then they scattered like quail.”
Caffie dismissed this “legacy” Army Reserve -- with training that lasted one weekend a month in addition to two weeks of annual training -- as a strategic force that was irrelevant at best.
“You went to a military installation that you weren’t really welcome at -- it was probably more intruding than anything -- and (active-duty soldiers) tolerate you for two weeks,” Caffie said, describing annual reserve training that often depended on weapons and equipment cast off or borrowed from an active unit.
Quoting his boss, Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, Caffie said, “The only business that was taken care of during that two-week period was planning of the unit party on Thursday the day before you leave.
“Everybody had their directions; (we knew) who was buying beer, steaks, charcoal,” he said. “After the party, everybody loaded the car and went back home -- another successful summer camp where you really didn’t accomplish anything.”
The turning point came in the early 1990s, when Army Reserve soldiers started being mobilized into operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Caffie said. The operations revealed an Army Reserve that was ill-equipped, poorly trained and insufficiently led.
“We had created this strategic force that was really not relevant at all. You had a bunch of numbers, but as far as training and capability, performance at that level wasn’t expected,” he said. “That changed drastically when the Army Reserve as a whole went from a strategic force to an operational force, and you have seen a significant change in how we do stuff as Army Reserve soldiers.”
In a dramatic departure from the “summer camp” era, today’s reservists have been deployed up to four times, Caffie said. Others have made significant personal sacrifices by deploying for a year at a time, he said.
“The combat experience of Army Reserve soldiers is phenomenal,” he said. “Today’s Army Reserve force is by far the best led, skilled and equipped Army Reserve I have ever been associated with.”
Despite dramatic improvements to equipment and training, Caffie said the Army Reserve’s greatest resource is the young people who “raised their hand and volunteer to serve.”
But the pool of talented young men and women is in high demand in every industrial sector, Caffie conceded. The Army Reserve not only is vying for young talent alongside other military branches, but also competes with the private and public sectors, Caffie said. Making the pursuit more difficult are strict standards placed on potential recruits. According statistics by U.S. Army Recruiting Command, of 10 potential recruits in the 17-to-42-year-old demographic, only three qualify for service. A criminal record, obesity or other eliminators can preclude service.
While the reserves ostensibly are interested in the same limited resources as other branches, Caffie suggested the best-suited members of the Army Reserve possess an extra quality.
“I think what makes a suitable Army Reserve soldier is a young person who has some goals and objectives that go beyond being active-duty military. Whether they’re going to work in an insurance company or work in their father’s or mother’s business, they’ve got some career goals other than going active duty,” he said. “Those kids make a tremendous asset for being recruited for the Army Reserve, because they maintain the community connectivity.”
In addition to holding community ties and bringing civilian-acquired skills to their military service, Caffie emphasized that Army Reserve soldiers have the same set of principles that permeates other services.
“I will put the young men and women of the U.S. Army Reserve up against any branch of the United States military,” Caffie said, “in terms of their leadership, their professionalism and their continued service.”